<b>THE EARTHY SMELLS</b> of dirt and the unmistakable sound of wind whispering as it passes through branches hit visitors to Potomac Overlook Regional Park as soon as they begin to walk the paths. In an attempt to have more people experience this sensory overload, the park began in May the “Come Hang Out… Outdoors!” program.
<p>The program takes place at the park’s Nature Center, a small house located 300 yards from the parking lot. The walk is made more enjoyable by the presence of a “planet walk,” where plaques with information about each planet are placed at a distance from the Nature Center relative to the planets distance from the sun (with the fallen from grace Pluto tacked inside the Nature Center.) Outside the nature center, staff and volunteers were setting up that day’s activities.
<p>“We want people to get outside,” said Heather DeVault, a summer naturalist at Potomac Overlook. She noted that the entire program is based on Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods,” which laments how little exposure modern children and families are given to the outdoors. Potomac overlook is seeking to reverse this trend by providing an easy outlet for local residents to experience the outdoors, as well as providing various nature and outdoors activities.
<p>On this Sunday the crowd outside of the Nature Center is not overwhelming but definitely present. There are a number of families who have stopped for the complimentary lemonade and watermelon, to take a break from a hike, or to check out the what was on display for that day.
<p>“Today we have the box turtle and the mole king snake,” said DeVault.
<p>The snake especially was popular among the younger crowd. In addition to the live animals, there was a “Touch and Feel Box,” where partners could take turns feeling natural artifacts and guessing to their partner what they were touching. Also, several volunteers were entertaining the very young visitors with colonial-era games, bubble blowing, and the painting of various objects.
The program not only serves the interest of promoting the outdoors to citizens, but of promoting the parks themselves.
<p>“[The Park managers] would like to try to develop a program in which people could come to the park on a regular basis,” said Travis Anderson, who works with Park Maintenance.
Though the event has been a success thus far, there are even more plans for expansion in the future,
<p>“It’s an evolving process,” said Rich Bailey, a naturalist at the Park. “We’d like to plan and schedule some community potlucks.”
<p>The Park may also promote environmentalism on a more universal standard, outside of the Park.
<p>“We might have a hybrid car on display one Sunday,” Bailey said.
<p>Based on the enthusiasm displayed last Sunday, they would certainly have an audience.